The Outside Blog

Adventure : Travel

On the Road with the Great March for Climate Action

Last week I took my five-year-old daughter on her first activist march. It was day one of summer vacation in Santa Fe, and the whole season stretched languorously in front of us. What better way to celebrate her newfound freedom than by trekking 15 miles along the backroads of northern New Mexico with the Great March for Climate Action

I'd first heard of the Great March a few days earlier, when it had come through Santa Fe on its way north to Colorado. Founded by Ed Fallon, a former state legislator from Iowa, the march is comprised of "climate patriots" who are walking from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C. to inspire action to solve the climate crisis. Since leaving L.A. on March 1, they've averaged about 15 miles a day, camping in parks and parking lots along the way—a 3,000-mile, eight month journey that's slated to end in Washington on November 1.

Earlier in May, I'd spent four days walking along the northern California coast with my sister, a sort of slow-motion ultra that had left me obsessed with traveling by foot. The climate marchers were doing exactly that, only on a grand scale, coast to coast, to raise awareness for a grave and urgent global cause. It was such an audaciously simple and seductive mission that for half a second, I fantasized about going the distance with them, along the spine of the southern Rockies, across the heartland, all the way to Washington. 

Then I snapped back to reality. I have two young daughters, a husband, a puppy, and a job at home in Santa Fe. Walking for six months was out of the question, but I could walk for a day, or maybe two. I imagined trekking short sections with a band of selfless climate pilgrims, hopscotching around the country all summer to meet them. But first things first. Before I could join them, I had to find them.

I tracked them down on a Sunday evening in Santa Fe at their camp in a baseball field a few blocks from my house, their cluster of tents and vehicles barely visible in the late May dusk. A bright-eyed, 60-something official named Izzy greeted me warmly and explained that a core group of 30 or so have been walking since L.A.—a handful are "spirit walkers," who hope to walk every single step—but plenty of people march for a few days or weeks, and I was welcome to tag along. 

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/youngest-marchers_fe.jpg","align":"left","size":"medium"}%}

Which is how Pippa and I found ourselves, along with our friend Blair and her three-year-old daughter, Grace, in the parking lot of the Santuario de Chimayo, shortly after 7 a.m. on Wednesday morning. It was a modest encampment: Half a dozen nylon tents were pitched along the edges of the church's gravel lot. Duffle bags lay where they'd been tossed on a black tarp. The chalkboard on the back of the kitchen truck advertised lentils and rice; under the scrawled heading, "Leftovers," nothing was written. Two older women bent over a plastic basin, washing the breakfast dishes. At least three people were brushing their teeth, or their hair. Except for a couple of gear trucks and the odd Prius, it could have been just another morning on a group camping trip. 

Freshly showered in shorts and sneakers, with two blonde girls in tow, Blair and I stood out like, well, two moms at their first activist march. Izzy found us right away, and a 50-ish woman named Judy motioned for us to join the morning meeting. The sky was patched with morning clouds, and the campers gathered in a loose circle, bundled in down jackets and nylon pants that sagged a little at the knees, smelling like fresh air and the physical exertion that comes from walking 15 miles and sleeping outside everyday for the past six weeks. 

The group's acting mayor, Miriam, 71, motioned for us all to hold hands for announcements. Someone said that they were mailing a letter to the President. A bearded coordinator named Jimmy urged everyone to show up for a rally in Taos on Saturday night; there would be an optional field trip to see the earth ships, if anyone was interested. Sarah, on the logistics team, briefed us on our route: We would walk north out of the village of Chimayo toward Truchas, 15 miles into the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, along the rural byway known as the High Road to Taos. After Blair and I and the girls were introduced to the group and greeted with smiles and prayer hands all around, Miriam led us in song, a plaintive chant imploring us to not kill the earth.

In my fervor to join the March, I'd blithely assumed we would walk the whole way, and I'd brought a borrowed BOB off-road stroller as backup for when Pippa got tired. Blair had brought one for Grace, too, but at the last minute, as we were donning reflective safety vests and the marchers were shouldering their hand-written signs, we decided to take only one, for Grace; Pippa could ride on the front if need be. I'd also assumed that we'd be strolling quiet country roads, and possibly trails. I'd heard that before they reached Santa Fe, the marchers had been met by local Native American tribal members and escorted cross-country on sacred pueblo lands. I pictured us bent over maps, plotting a remote path through the wilds of New Mexico.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/march-signs_fe.jpg","align":"right","size":"medium"}%}

Instead, we were walking up the pencil-wide shoulder of Country Road 98 during Chimayo's morning rush hour. Cars and pickups whizzed by, some arcing wide to give us room, others nearly clipping us. I clutched tightly to Pippa's hand. The marchers seemed unfazed: They'd already walked 1,000 miles on roads just like this, through gritty L.A. fumes and sleet and hail and blizzards and deluges and dust storms ("I've stopped calling it climate change and now just call it climate strange!" Izzy declared when I first met him). They strung out along the white line, waving their signs jollily and flashing peace signs at the drivers. A middle-aged woman named Kat from Homer, Alaska, called out in broken Spanish to an elderly Hispanic couple who sat on the portal of their old adobe watching us pass, expressionless.

There was so much going on it was hard to focus on the walking. I thought about what Judy, who had joined in Payson, Arizona, and was going as far as Denver, had told me in the parking lot when I asked her if she loved marching: "It's more complicated than that."

Indeed, even with the traffic and the effort required to keep Pippa moving forward in a somewhat straight line and Grace entertained in the stroller, I could see that the walking was the easy part. Harder by far was coexisting outside with a disparate group of people for eight months while trying to rally around a common cause. Of the three dozen walkers, nearly all were nearing or over 50, semi-retired or empty-nesters. Three or four were under 25, including a woman in a long skirt who was doing the whole march in silence (except for singing). Then there was Mac, 24, a spirit walker who had just graduated from the University of Michigan and was marching—or rather hobbling—barefoot. "Walking is not just about the activism," he told us. "I believe that I'm connecting to the earth and transforming myself, and through that, others will be inspired to transform, too."

But what about the activism? When I asked Kimberly, a masseuse from Des Moines with salt-and-pepper hair, what message they were hoping to convey through the March, she explained that their mission statement was still a work in progress. "It's about water and energy and solar," she said, "and the Keystone Pipeline. We're working on our vision as a group." 

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/march-barefoot_fe.jpg","align":"left","size":"medium"}%}

The logistics of organizing such a massive undertaking are tricky, too. When they showed up in LA for the start of the Great March, on March 1, Miriam explained, "there was hardly any infrastructure set up. There were no dishes or pots. We had to do everything from the beginning." The original plan had envisioned a thousand full-time marchers, but so far on any given day, there have been less than 50. (Many marchers come and go, walking for weeks or months and leaving for just as long to tend to things at home; they hope to recruit more en route, starting in Denver in June.) The March adheres to the principles of non-violence and is self-governed through an elected city council, mayor, and judicial board. Early on, the marchers implemented once-a-week rest days to catch up on the real lives they left behind, but they were so busy doing laundry and sending emails and fundraising (each full-time marcher committed to raising $20 per day to cover food and expenses) that they started calling them "stay days." 

A mile from the Santuario, the March turned north onto busier NM 76, the High Road, threading through farm fields and horse pastures and past ramshackle adobe art studios. Pippa had taken to straddling the front of the stroller rather than walking, which was a relief—the cars were coming faster, and the shoulder had narrowed—but made for awkward pushing. Under the weight of both girls, the BOB lurched and swerved in the soft gravel like a fully-loaded shopping cart with a bad wheel.

Our fellow walkers were unfailingly optimistic. "You're the youngest marchers we've ever had!" they exclaimed cheerfully to the girls, as they took turns helping Blair and me maneuver the stroller up a long hill. One of the marchers, Bob, had volunteered to drive the sag wagon, Kimberly's Prius, that morning, and he kept pulling over to direct us safely along dodgy sections through the blind curves. Drivers honked and slowed to wave or give us the thumbs up; others ignored us altogether.

Our girls rose to the occasion of their first environmental march. Pippa gamely hopped in and out of the BOB, feeding Grace bits of Larabar, listening patiently while the marchers talked about climate change, and complaining only a little: "When are we going to get to the trail, Mama?"

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/march-truck_fe.jpg","align":"right","size":"medium"}%}

We were still ten miles from the nearest trail, a dirt forest road that that would spare us from Highway 76, when Blair and I decided to pull the plug. Grace had begun to clamor to get out of the stroller, but the High Road was still far too busy for her to toddle safely, and Bob graciously offered to shuttle us back the Santuario in the Prius. We shook hands, hugged the marchers goodbye, and wished them luck. It was just after 10 am. We'd walked three miles of the Great March for Climate Action, one-one-thousandth of the way across the country.

Driving back to Santa Fe, I tried to make sense of the morning. Part of me was inexplicably glad to go home, to not have to walk en masse to Washington and sleep in parking lots and eat lentils from the back of a truck. But the other half of me knew we'd only just nicked the surface of the Great March. Like any adventure, it always takes a few days to find your place—outside and in the group. "It's a constant discovery," Judy told me. "You're wondering where you fit in." It's changing—we all are—all the time. 

For nearly everyone I talked to, the reality of marching was so different from the fantasy. Not better or worse, just different. "Before the March, I'd been afraid of sleeping outside," Kimberly explained as we walked. "Now I can't imagine not." Earlier Judy told me, "there's a timelessness to living outside that most of us never get to experience." And for 18-year-old named Bernise, who's taking a year off college to walk, the March "is so much more amazing than I ever expected." I've spend the last couple of years running ultra-distance trail races, and marching three miles for a cause with young children felt harder than running 50.

I asked Pippa what she thought of being part of one of the largest cross-country marches in history. "It was cool," she said automatically—high praise from a kindergartener. But then she was quiet for a while, and I could tell she was thinking. "They're still walking," she marveled. "And they'll still be walking at Halloween."

Years from now, long after the March is over, our children—these very girls—will inherit the problems of a warming, changing world, and it will be their crisis to solve. Had Blair and I and our daughters made a difference by walking that day? Will we turn off the lights and stop ordering our lattes to go in paper cups? Think twice about driving, and ride our bikes instead? Meet the March in Omaha after all? For the sake of our daughters, and their daughters, I really, really hope so.

But probably, it's more complicated than that. 

For more information about how to meet up with the March or donate, go to climatemarch.org. Full-timer marchers and part-time walkers are always welcome; see the route and schedule online.

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The Mobile Hostel Bus of Your Powder-Hound Dreams

For those of us who just want to hit the slopes, finding ideal lodging can be a painstakingly annoying afterthought. Optimal pricing and amenities can make or break a ski trip—hotels with the right mix of affordability, flexibility, and comfort aren't easy to find and can easily tie you down. Fear no more: A successful Indiegogo campaign has got you covered.

Yesterday, a Belgian-based group raising money for what they call "the Nomads Bus"—a mobile hostel designed to shuttle lodgers to the best powder in Austria, Switzerland, and France—closed its Indiegogo effort after surpassing its goal of 20,000 euros in about six weeks. Spearheaded by two self-described nomads named Val and Tim, the fundraising drive raised 23,115 euros—that's more than $31,000 for our stateside readers—which should be more than enough to bring the Nomads Bus to fruition.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/swiss-alps-nomadbus.jpg","size":"large","caption":"The Nomads Bus will travel Europe in search of the best skiing destinations—options include Austria, France, and Switzerland (pictured)."}%}

Where will the money go? For starters, Val and Tim plan to buy and ship a 40-foot school bus from Florida to Belgium. That's right, the bus your kids dread getting onto in the morning could soon be shuttling thrill seekers to the best powder in Europe. From there, they plan to spend the summer renovating the bus with their friends, but in the greenest, most cost-effective way possible.

Still, the costs are expected to add up: 3,000 euros for a solar system, 4,000 for a wood stove, 1,000 for a compost toilet, and so on. It all comes back to the campaign's goal: to create an awesome adventure experience that's also not for profit, eco-friendly, carbon neutral, and sponsored by small indie brands.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/nomad-schoolbus.jpg","size":"large","caption":"Let's Be Nomads announced on June 2 that it had found its dream bus: this Thomas school bus in Tennessee."}%}

Getting in on the fun shouldn't be too tough if you're willing to shell out a little cash. Donors who committed upwards of 350 euros to the Indiegogo page got first dibs but didn't come close to filling all the slots. The Nomads Bus hosts five guests at a time and offers multiple packages, all currently discounted:

  • For 50 euros (currently 40) per night, you can purchase the "Super Flexible Package," which allows you to choose as many nights as you want but forgoes many amenities.
  • For 399 euros (currently 349), you can purchase the "Short Stay Package," which gets you four nights of the basics plus a three-day ski pass, daily organic breakfasts and dinners, and one transfer to another resort.
  • For 749 euros (currently 649), you can purchase the "All-In Week Package," which nets you a seven-night trip with a six-day ski pass, organic breakfasts and dinners, pickup and dropoff at the Innsbruck train station or airport, sheets, towels, and private ski lessons. 

But there's more! If cold weather isn't your thing, the bus plans to continue operating in the summer, when it'll cruise along the Atlantic coast as a mobile wave-chasing hostel for avid surfers.

Find out more about the campaign and how to sign up through the Nomads Bus Indiegogo page.

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The Sweetest Running Swag

Going the distance means getting some goodies. And no, we aren’t talking just the sense of accomplishment you feel at the finish line. We are talking freebies, treasures, and swag—whatever you want to call it. It doesn’t matter when it’s free. At these races you will find the best, the worst, and some of the weirdest stuff in your swag bags.

Most Luxurious

Nike Women’s Marathon; San Francisco, California
Sorry guys, but the 15,000 runners who come together in April to take on the roads of San Fran are ladies only. Lottery-only entry makes the Nike Women’s Marathon even more exclusive. But you have to be selective when you are doling out Tiffany & Co. necklaces at the finish line by the hands of firefighters in tuxedos. The beginning is just as extravagant as the end, with pre-race festivities including a four-day expo chock full of free vendors giving out boutique and spa products. For all the ladies who are always multitasking, here is a way to pound the pavement while getting pampered. 

Smelliest

ORRC Garlic Festival 10K; North Plains, Oregon
The ORRC Garlic Festival 10K does feature some pretty vanilla race goodies. Finishers get a medal and can win running gear at the raffle. Winners get plaques and ribbons. But that’s where is the blandness ends. The ice cream at the finish line is garlic flavored. So is the celebratory beer. So is the shape of the medal. In the past, “secret” prizes for the winners have included giant bags of garlic bulbs. Don’t expect to get any kisses in the winner’s circle at this event. 

Most Indulgent

Hershey Half Marathon; Hershey, PA
Well if you are a running lover of dessert with a child-like love for theme parks, the Hershey Half is a dream come true. Along with chocolate-filled swag bags, a Chocolate Aid Station at mile 12, where volunteers hand out Reese’s and Special Dark like it’s well, candy. The finisher’s goodie bag includes two tickets to Hersheypark amusement park. After running 13.1 miles, and eating an equivalent amount in ounces of chocolate, we dare you to take a spin on the Sooperdooperlooper coaster. 

Most Random

London Marathon; London, England
You would think that a World Major marathon would be handing out some pretty legit stuff but in the past, London swag has been a little swag-less. Not only do they hand out one mish-mash, but two. The pre-race bag contains the common and expected nuts, nutrition bars, and leaflets. It’s post-race where things get really weird. That one includes everything from Mars Bars, a beer, a single prune, a sachet for a pasta bake, chewing gum, and a one-size fits all shirts the size of blankets. 

Best International

Le Marathon du Medoc; Bordeaux, France
With a 2014 theme of “The Countries of the World and Their Carnivals,” you can bet the Medoc is going to be a party. Before you even get to the start line, the marathon oraganizers a proper carbo-load, called “Soiree Mille-Pates,” complete with fine china and a twenty-piece band. The pre-race celebration seems to carry right through the race, where 23 different red and white wines are offered at drink stations along the course in the middle of France’s vineyards. Wine serves as hydration and gourmet foie gras, entrecote steak, pain au chocolat, fruit and oysters at pit stops serve as fuel. Put all this together you have yourself some world-class swag. After the race, and downing nearly six bottles of wine, winners are given their weight in even more wine. All finishers are rewarded with a rose, a kiss gym bag and a bottle of vintage Medoc to go. 

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Learning to Love the Sounds of the Amazon

“Whoah! Did you hear that?!” our 12-year-old son, Skyler, exclaimed.

“Yeah. Sounds like a 250-pound man doing a cannonball,” my husband, Peter, guessed.

We were taking a rest inside our floating cabin at the Uacari Lodge in the Brazilian Amazon. Connected by a boardwalk were five thatched bungalows, a two-story central house, and some outbuildings, each on their own raft, floating on a tributary of the Rio Solimoes. In front of the main house a square hole had been cut through the deck to create a pool. A netted pool. That was a good thing. We’d soon find out what we could have been swimming with. It was rapidly becoming clear that we were in territory where the wildlife ruled.

Great “ka-thunk” sounds were happening all around us. Hurrying out onto the porch, we saw a finned tail curl and whiplash the surface of the water. It belonged to a Pirarucu, a ten-foot-long fish that we’d seen in the market in Manaus, the one whose scales are sold for fingernail files. It was coming up to breathe. In addition to gills, Pirarucu have a swim bladder allowing them to extract oxygen from the air. This unusual adaptation to oxygen-poor water in the Amazonian floodplains would seem to be an advantage, but instead it required, every few minutes, what appeared to be a thrashingly desperate act of survival.

But the “ka-thunks” weren’t the only strange sound here in the Mamiraua Eco Reserve (the first of its kind in the state of Amazonas). There was that low otherworldly roar, like an icy wind howling through cavernous medieval halls; Red Howler Monkeys marking their territories, constantly it seemed.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/Uacari-Lodge-Mamiraua-Eco-Reserve.jpg","align":"left","size":"medium","caption":"Dark skies above the Uacari Lodge in Mamiraua Eco Reserve."}%}

We didn’t see the Caimin until the next day, when they surrounded our shallow-sided canoe. The semi-submersion—revealing only two nostrils, followed a foot or more away by two glassy eyes and a strip of scaly back—is part of what gives them their stealthy quality, but really I think it’s their glide; that pulse-less swimming, the skimming silence of it.

We went out again in a motorboat that night. In the dark, Eduardo—one of two English-speaking, biology students from Southern Brazil who were our main guides—scanned the river with a powerful flashlight, looking for obstacles in the water. The eyes of the Caimin, those trench-coated undercover agents, glowed red.

“I counted 13 that time,” whispered Skyler.

Despite this, the reserve is a tranquil place. A place where there is a lot of hunting going on, quiet, focused hunting. A lot of stalking, a lot of stillness. It's surprising to see how fast the Caimin can cruise because more often they seem to be stopped, probably knowing it’s the motion that gives them away. But they're not the only ones on the prowl. The Anhinga, an underwater diving bird, paddles silently with webbed feet, then unexpectedly slides backwards under the water, to emerge somewhere else, neck first, actually only the neck, a pulsing, snake-like periscope. The elegant Egrets ride, tall and white, on electric- green floating meadows, still lives on a conveyor belt of tall grass, waiting, watching.

Between the hulking, carnivorous Pirarucu, the diving Anhinga, plummeting Kingfishers, strafing Large-billed Terns, and stealthily cruising Caimin, being a small fish in the Amazon must be risky business. I wondered where we fit in. I felt pleased our kids were seeing a world where we were, as humans, so clearly not in charge.

I yearned to sit in the hammocks on our porch and immerse myself in the quiet, but we had a schedule. Up at six, out by seven, back by twelve, lunch, out at three, back by seven, dinner, after-dinner activity.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/Skyler-and-Molly-check-out-the-Uacari-Lodge-pool.jpg","align":"right","size":"medium","caption":"Skyler and Molly check out the Uacari Lodge pool."}%}

When Bianca, our other guide, said the purpose of the night walk was “to experience the night life” I laughed. Sounds like a party in Salvador. I love walking in woods at night, eyes wide, ears open, antennae alert. At least I had until here, when I heard the guide urgently hissing, “muito venenoso, venenoso.” It doesn’t take any language skill to figure out what that means when it’s attached to “Cobra!” I was in the front, behind the local guide, when he spotted the snake by the side of the path with his flashlight. I couldn’t really tell you what it looked like since I was mostly backing up, “rapidamente” as I’d been instructed to. He had that excited, tight sound in his voice that you don’t question. “Sirucucu, sirucucu!” Funny, that was the snake, the Fer-de-lance, also known as a Pit Viper, also known as the most venomous snake in the Amazon, that we’d just been talking about, our 16-year-old daughter, Molly, and I.

Paddling our canoe earlier that afternoon, Molly's and my Portuguese-speaking, local-village guide, Almir, said off-handedly that he’d been bitten by a Pit Viper twice that year. Then he went on to describe its behavior. Could it really swim? Jump into a canoe?! Climb trees, do double back flips….? We weren’t really sure we understood, but that's what we thought he'd said. Later, talking to Bianca, we sorted it out. It’s the Anaconda, another friendly local, that can climb trees and hop into your canoe. This one, the Sirucucu, just kills you. Almir had got the anti-venom in time, but was still unable to walk, for a month; its venom had paralyzed his legs. So that night, when we were invited to come forward for a look, I declined; unlike Molly, Skyler and Peter.

{%{"image":"http://media.outsideonline.com/images/Skyler-exploring-the-Varzea-forest.jpg","align":"left","size":"medium","caption":"Skyler exploring the Varzea forest."}%}

That morning, we’d visited a village down the river. A woman there had told us how she’d seen an Anaconda, at the edge of the water, already fully wrapped around a calf, starting to constrict it. She’d dashed into the river to free it. Now would that be your first instinct?! The Anaconda had bitten her (she showed us the marks) and then had been unable to extract its curved teeth from her arm. Her husband seeing that she was in trouble dashed into the water, too, and having no knife, bit the snake. I know, it’s starting to sound like a tall tale. The calf lived.

They all have stories like that. You start to believe them when you walk back to your bungalow after lunch and find a baby Caimin—a mere four-feet long—sunning itself on the flotation logs of your cabin.

Now, our night guide was shining his light into a tree trunk. I’d dropped back safely into the middle of the pack. Something like “Carangeira” was whispered along the line. “Tem muitos nomes.” “It has lots of names.” It turned out “Tarantula” was the one I recognized. By the time I got up to the tree, she had slid back into her white pocket of a house, only a few of her long, furry black legs still stuck out, yellow on the tips. She’d done her nails.

Given that I grew up with a father who had a phobia for snakes and a mother with a phobia for spiders, this was not shaping up to be my kind of a stroll. I can’t tell you much about the canopy at night, or the symphonic sounds of insects, as my eyes and ears were pretty solidly focused, okay glued, to the ground.

We did stop once, however, to listen. And the plethora of sounds were amazing. Like a percussion section, the cicadas played a steady blanket of 16th notes on high-pitched triangles; frogs, the washboard quarter notes, and toads, the low belching whole note. An occasional rapid-fire rattle skimmed the surface. Here was a little of Salvador after all. Soon afterward, we spotted the lights of the lodge through the trees. I was happy to return to our floating boardwalk. I’d take the “ka-thunks” in the night any day. My kids, however, had been unperturbed.

I was, nevertheless, pleased to have ventured into that other world; that Halloween night world of spiders and snakes, and to have had a small taste of what it might be like to live on a more even playing field with those creatures who are after all mostly just defending themselves against those out to get them—the likes of us. I felt glad that my kids could experience a world so unlike our Western one where we humans "monitor" and "control" the wildlife. I was grateful to be admitted as a guest in their house.

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